Blog > Winter Mountaineering

Forcan magic. 10th January 2016

11/01/16

Had great fun introducing my good mate Innes to the joys of winter climbing yesterday and the weather gods treated us to a classic. The forecast had been for heavy rain/snow for most of the day but nothing came of it at all.

Now Innes built a lot of the Black Cuillin footpaths and has explored many of the peaks and ridges in that time. Instead he fancied Glen Shiel, having driven through it so often but never left the road.

A big part of the joy of the day was listening to the commentary- Innes was being blown away by every aspect of our environment. “It’s so 3-dimensional” was a comment really early on as the clever stalkers path weaved upward eventually revealing the hidden maze of glens beyond.IMG_0748 (3)

 

We left plans open but I reasoned that, if we were going to carry the crampons, rope etc we should aim for a route where they might actually be needed so the Forcan Ridge it was. I’ve done it many times but it never disappoints with progress often complex and time-consuming.

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Top pupil donned the harness although I sensed an element of doubt about any need for it as I coiled the rope in preparation. Heading to the foot of the first slab Innes was hard on my heels and the beast was momentarily unleashed only to watch me fail miserably getting up the opening groove. A rising zig-zag left us no choice but to balance across the groove 40ft above the ground and the need for rope became obvious. The lad grew very fond of that wee bit of string over the following couple of hours!

 

IMG_0759What a position

 

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The aesthetics were great but the pics don’t show the brutal hard work. Every inch was hard fought for but, as Innes pointed out, it kept the mind off the drop.

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After an hour or so in the mist, things began to get distinctly brighter until we were suddenly in bright sunlight and the mists dropped off the ridge running away in front of us towards the Saddle.

IMG_0763Top of Sgurr a Forcan with The Saddle appearing out to the north.

It was already close to 2pm when we reached the summit of Sgurr a’ Forcan so an easy decision to head down immediately beyond. Now the bumslide descent from the Saddle is such fun it justifies the effort almost every time in winter but I hadn’t told Innes because I hadn’t been sure about the short-cut we were about to take. A foot of powder is a great cushion though and the run-out was clear so I armed the lad with an ice -axe, gave him a brief lesson then set him free while I packed the rope.

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He was off like a shot and I was greeted by a cheshire cat-like grin 400 feet lower as Innes admitted the descent had been particularly troubling him whenever he made the mistake of thinking about it! With the tension released the eulogising really began in earnest; pretty sure I’ve another good keen climbing partner well broken in.

IMG_0771Looking back at where we’d been.

IMG_0769The Five Sisters of Kintail beautifully highlighted in the evening light

Thanks for inspiration for a great day out Innes!

Beautiful Bla Bheinn. Friday 8th January

11/01/16

Stunning light and colours on a quick trip up Bla Bheinn last Friday afternoon.

Nice ice surprise

01/12/15

A warm week followed by another cold weekend but Monday’s forecast was better so we waited ’til today for our adventures. With low snow once more I was sure we’d get last week’s low lying ambition done but, yet again, conditions just weren’t playing ball. Even the high cliffs on Bla Bheinn looked dry and powdery so Beads and I agreed on a wander across to a buttress on the South Ridge that neither of us had visited before. Deep powder gave us a good work out but we were rewarded with a huge sweep of hillside dripping in good ice.

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Too good to miss we soloed a bit then took the precaution of a rope for another 3 pitches or so, delightful movement in bright sunshine and a pretty good backdrop….

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All this indulgence took us high on the South Ridge where the we met the weather; not a sign of Glen Sligachan, let alone the Main Ridge. It was time to run away but not until we got a good look at the buttress we’d originally been aiming for. Plunging down the nearest gully the powder was now our friend as we dropped a long way down, me mainly on my butt. Now there had been no intention of doing another climb but when a recessed gully suddenly appeared complete with a long ribbon of ice it was time to kick ass and accept a headlit descent.

IMG_0253The beautiful Gully

Beads volunteered for the first pitch, very gallant given the thin, hollow ice and obvious lack of protection. He climbed it well, a relief to us both but particurly him with a bank of deep powder as the only consolation available. My pitch proved very similar in style but yielded a wire placement close to half height. Very hard to grade but, in the conditions we had today, probably IV,4. In perfect conditions it could be as low as grade II but any less frozen and it wouldn’t be possible.

IMG_0256Looking down pitch 2

It was then a long, very hard flog through the powder to the top of the gully

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but rewarded with a view to the Main Ridge

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Light was fading and the full sacks weighed heavily but the last light out over Rum gave one final special view

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The Breadline, V,5.

23/11/15

The first winter climbing day of the season is always daunting; so much extra kit to remember, fit, fix and, worst of all, carry. Yesterday though, I had a cunning plan; walking up Blaven on Saturday I’d spotted a couple of ideal new lines all icy and snow covered nice and low on the hill. Now I do remember clocking how warm it was on the walk back from the Broadford football dance too late on Saturday night but Sunday dawned stunningly and the car was coated in frost. Beads and Murdo were right on time and I felt smug remembering to pack the hot flask despite my thick head. Torrin was stunning with the eastern Cuillin as a backdrop but most obvious was that the snow-line had jumped half-way up the mountain or more; on the back of 3 fast days on the tops my body ached just at the thought of having to go right up again.

At the carpark Murdo let out an expletive as he located his boots as being back in Portree and my relief came in the most comical/painful/more comical manner. Smug we were not as Beads and I know it will be our turn to screw up soon enough but we did enjoy an extra cuppa with the time we knew Murdo needed to make the next rendezvous at Sligachan. So the crack team was finally in action before 10-30am.IMG_0197

Beads tried to tempt us to the flesh pots of his own personal face on Sgurr a’ Bhasteir but it was black as the ace of spades and obvious we needed to go high; either the Bhasteir face of Gillean or Am Basteir itself. Way back in 2009 I’d spotted an open-book corner directly above where The Deadline(III) turns hard right. Another attraction was that it seemed likely to be short enough that we might top out before dark 🙂

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My pitch gave a sharp wake-up call for the new season with a wide range of tactics and plenty of fight needed to make upward progress. A couple of good ice placements early on were but a tease and above here I used everything from full body wedging to tiny finger edges. The protection was all a bit testing to construct and somewhat reliant on the rock holding together but luckily wasn’t put to the test.

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A pull over the capping stone to finish saw both Murdo and I flop like seals onto the snow-covered scree bed but Mr Beads managed the whole pitch in some style.

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The continuation pitch gave Beads more quality climbing and a stunning top-out on the back of Am Basteir.

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Shining out from below our cloud cover was a dazzling aray of autumn colours out over the mainland to the south; here looking across to Loch Nevis with Mallaig to the right and Knoydart to the left-

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The route was short (70m) but gave sustained and quality climbing. Wordmeister Beads had christened it The Breadline tied into the parent route The Deadline long before we had completed. Grading a route with so much thrutching is always hard but I’m going to settle on V,5 for now and see what future ascentionists think. It’s a good line that will be in nick frequently so shouldn’t be long….

Heavy sacks gave squealing quads on the initial steep downhill but I found myself back in a serene mindset once more as the moon lit the moorland path back to the car; a hair of the dog, a bath and a long lie-in…….

Swiss selection

23/11/15

3 very different days out this week with Erik, Fabian and Andrew on their Skye break. Sorry but no pics from a rather damp traverse of Sgurr nan Gillean on Thursday. Skies cleared as temperatures dropped and gave us beautiful views on An Caistiel via Sgurr an Fheadain on Friday.

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A baltic wind and thin skim of hailstones added a sharp edge to the scrambling and we were glad to abseil into some shelter on the way down; so much so that the 2 swiss guests went for a dip in thee Fairy Pools on the walk out.

IMG_0135 (1024x768)Head on into a bitter wind

Snow lay very low on a beautiful Saturday morning.

IMG_0151 (1024x768)Eastern Cuillin giants; Blaven, Clach Glas, Sgurr nan Each and Belig

 With rain forecast we opted for a quick romp to the summit of Blaven rather than the technicalities of Clach Glas.

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The clouds did roll in and a few flurries of snow added to a festive feel.

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Once on top the bitter wind became apparrent and we were all glad to wrap up fully for tackling the short awkward step betweeen the summits.

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The guys came with an open mind, a good level of fitness and a willingness to take advice- a perfect way to approach the mountains but especially at this time of year. Sante!

“Hey Mike – just wanted to once again tell you that we had a great time and great experience – appreciate your time and patience, and look forward to seeing you again before long – we are already talking about a summer trip”

Day 2 Sgurr an Fheadain and An Caisteal

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Day 3 Blaven-

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Return of the Skye Winter Climbing Festival.

11/11/15

Skye Winter Climbing Festival 2016

Waterfront Bunkhouse, Old Inn Carbost. January 14th to January 27th 2016

An open invitation to climbers, walkers and any others with an interest in the Skye mountains in winter.

It’s that time again. 2 weeks for climbers to meet up, climb together and enjoy the post-match analysis. The Cuillin truly take on their Alpine status in winter and offer climbing and scenery like nowhere else in Britain. We’re not expecting anyone to come for the whole period but there is a whole lifetime of adventures to be had.

Background information.

For the past 5 years staff and close friends of Skye Guides have held an informal winter meet that has seen high levels of activity including over 40 new winter climbs. Only 5 days out of 34 have seen no activity so come keen and you’ll get rewards.

Guests have come from far and wide as well as a strong local representation each year. The apres-climb scene is embraced wholeheartedly (interpret as you like); just choose a level that doesn’t stop the climbing! The festival has allowed us to meet some amazing people and hear about some incredible adventures.

fonduefest 2Romain’s Fondue-fest 2013

 

The Climbing

Over the past 5 years we’ve well untruly blown the myth of the Cuillin being a poor option for winter climbing right out of the water. There is a whole mountain range of possibilities from hard-core mixed to truly alpine mountaineering.

 Foxes RakeAlly on Foxes Rake III

It’s not all high-brow climbing with many parties enjoying the magnificence of the snow-clad Cuillin from the corries, easy peaks and the coast-line. There’s Neist or Elgol for rock climbing and we’ve got some dry tooling crags developed. Even skiing and boarding have been growing in popularity over the past few seasons.

Last year’s festival was a resounding success with over 60 people enjoying superb winter conditions that spanned the whole 16-day period. It was undeniably hardcore on the majority of days and some got luckier than others, but people were out every day climbing more than 50 routes including 20+ first ascents.

Approaching Twicicle on the very wild “Black Friday”, 2015 Festival

How does it work?

Nothing complex- Come for as many days as you want. There are beds for 24 people available throughout the fortnight; first come first served. Use the meet as a base for climbing with a regular partner or come and match up. Collectively we make sure that nobody is left partnerless, short of inspiration or too far out of their depth.

What’s to do?

If you’re unfamiliar with what Skye has to offer check out any winter blog posts or an article on “The New Cuillin” for plenty of ideas.

Booking

If you’re interested in joining us just e-mail mike@skyeguides.co.uk or call telephone Mike on 01471 822 116. Bed reservations will need to be paid for but, if you are unsure if you can make it, we can also let you know how busy the different nights are looking. We’ll get you to complete a booking form with your climbing grade, Cuillin experience, and details to help with lift sharing.

Accommodation and Food

The festival is based at the Waterfront Bunkhouse at the Old Inn. 24 beds in 5 different rooms with bunkbeds and bedding provided. The accommodation has a spacious lounge with TV or there’s the pub next door.

Catering 2016- different this year!!

Self-catering in the well-eqipped kitchen or eat from the pub’s superb menu. There will be 2 big communal evening meals on the Saturday of each weekend at a cost of £10pp. Not sure what we’ll go for but local venison steaks, genuine french fondue and full roast dinners have been the norm. Please join us for these meals and let your hair down!

Costs

Attending the festival is free. Accommodation costs £15 per night for a bed and Saturday evening meals will cost £10.

B&B

The Old Inn will be open for business and private rooms will be available for those wanting a bit more privacy and peace. Please contact them directly- Old Inn

Evenings

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Over the years we’ve had illustrated talks on a variety of climbing trips and watched videos. Guests are welcome to bring anything from musical instruments to their own climbing snaps. The Old Inn is the climbers’ pub in Skye but also a busy local. It’s a lively spot with organised bands and impromptu jamming.

The Old Inn probably the best pub in Carbost

New for 2016- Skills symposium

Following a suggestion from guests last year some of our guides have committed a couple of days to specifically pass on their knowledge and skills. Limited places are available on a variety of full-day courses over the 2 festival weekends. Request more details when booking your place in the bunkhouse:-

  • Introduction to winter walking skills; 6 places per course. Suitable for walkers with good fitness but little winter experience. £50pp
  • Cuillin Winter Munros; 6 places per course. Suitable for fit winter climbers or walkers. £50pp
  • Dry Tooling skills; 4 places per course. Low-level; £50pp
  • Alpine rope skills for Cuillin ridges in winter; 4 places per course. Suitable for climbers or winter walkers of good fitness. £60pp
  • Mixed climbing skills; 2 places per course. Suitable for those with some pitched winter climbing experience. £80pp

Every effort will be made to achieve the course objectives but the mountains are in charge! Full refunds will be given if it is not possible to run the courses. Please just ask if you would like private guiding at any other point in the course.

 Social media

Please keep up to date through the Skye Winter Festival facebook page and retweet news using this shortened URL#skyewinterfest. Add your own photos to the facebok page and make sure that privacy settings allow everyone to see them please.

FAQ

Got your own campervan– You’re still welcome to join us for climbing & socially.

Last minute climber– We’re quite used to this scenario and happy for you decide to join us last minute. Keep in touch about bed space.

Unsure?– The addition of weekend skills symposiums will offer a cheap way to have professional advice and leadership. Skye Guides normal private guiding will be available throughout. Don’t worry if you don’t want to book anything- many of the Winter Festival regulars know the Cuillin very well, especially those who work here as guides. We’ll be offering route advice and information on the ground but, on the whole, it’s a non-working meet for us and we’re here to play like everyone else. A list of attendees is circulated before the meet with details of their experience & depth of Cuillin knowledge. Through the meet walking and climbing teams slot into place after making acquaintances.

Travel– Let us know where you’re coming from and whether you want to share lifts.

Winter Munro bagging in June

02/06/15

I’ve seen some hefty snow-flurries in June before but never a complete coating down below 600m. This mad weather just continues to amaze, frustrate but also give superb entertainment in the form of mountaineering challenge.

Angela wanted to climb Sgurr Alasdair because it is the name of her eldest son; preferably before he climbed it himself! Normally a fairly safe bet, especially in June, I had quite serious doubts as we met at Sligachan and saw quite how much snow there was.

We did suceed but only after a serious winter climbing expedition; would happily have graded it as III with crampons & axes!P1060732

Sgumain stone shoot. 

 

 

P1060742New guide Alasdair Snowman

Things got considerably more interesting next with the exposed slabby descent to reach the start of Alasdair

P1060750Came down here…

P1060749trying not to look down there…….

The SW Flank of Alasdair would ordinarily have been a 15 minute scramble; instead nearly an hour was spent pitching our way carefully up snow-coated basalt.

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Chimney at the foot of the face.

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View back to Sgumain & where we’d come from.

P1060761Angela on top of Alasdair; before her son of the same name makes it himself. Competetive mums eh!

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Window across to Thearlaich & Mhiccoinnich

Heavy sleet/rain finally caught us out on the top of Alasdair but didn’t dampen spirits. The snow made for good cushioning for the knees on descent and the tops even all cleared to let Angela see where she’d been.

P1060768Slippy descent from Alasdair with a view straight down to Ghrunnda to focus the mind.

P1060771View back to our peaks with deceptively little snow showing….

Snowy crest for bank holiday weekend.

30/04/15

After the brief dose of summery warmth & dry weather winter has returned with a vengeance. Despite strong sunshine temperatures remained low enough through today to leave the thick covering of snow on the Ridge crest complete. P1060454

The snow is heavy and wet but crampons will still be needed by anyone wanting to tackle the narrower sections of ridge, Thearlaich, Mhiccoinnich, Ghreadaidh, Pinnacle Ridge of Gillean in particular.

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A general recommendation would be to aim for individual peaks, add 50% to timings. SGurr an Fheadain, banachdaich, Blaven & Bruach na Frithe.

Sadly there doesn’t appear to be any full-on winter routing to be done.

Rock climbers should aim for the coast; here’s the Cioch today- P1060421

Temperatures may rise a bit mid-week next week but no heavy rain forecast to wash it all away.

Sugar & Spice & all things nice. March 2015

31/03/15

March has been a hectic period as admin for the summer starts to dominate; very hard after such a fun winter. The wild conditions have continued pretty much identically to the past 3 months with plenty of good climbing conditions formed by bonkers winds, loads of snow, the odd thaw and repeat….. There’s snow settling at sea-level tonight and that’s not an April fool. Still basking in the glory of the In Pinn spoof in 2013; had folk who believed it well over a year later-

In fact I’ve bottled out of trying to catch you out this year so relax & enjoy a few pics from the past month or so.

Storr, 1st March. Driving there was scary enough! These guys had the harshest 3 days of the winter but still got out each day.

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Sheltering under the Old Man of Storr

P1050672Sunshine; yey!

Neist. Friday 13th, not unlucky at all. First day of hot rock with Iain and Ally

Green Lady DirectIain on Green Lady

 

Spring tide funSpring Tide excitement

 

Man of StrawMan of Straw, VS 4c

Bruton party, 14th. A great day with miles of perfect snow to practice crampon & axe work.

P1050892Broad Gully, grade I, seen on descent

 

P1060647Tooth taken by Lucy that day

 

P1050869Perfect snow all day; here heading to Bruach na Frithe

 

 

Bla Bheinn with Lucy, Sunday 15th. Another immaculate day

Glory day

Alpine conditions on approach.

 

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Not a cloud to ruin the view.

 

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Can’t beat that view out to Rum

 

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Serious graft for the Skye MRT taking the radio relay down for fixing, all 200kg of it!

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Lucy on the crux of South Buttress Gully, III.

 

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South Buttress Gully- A mix of sugary snow, plenty of spice & god it was nice!

 

Eilidh & Matt. A magical day with the mists burning off and rock drying front of our eyes on Sgurr an Fheadian, 21st

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The Spur of Sgurr an Fheadain

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Smiles of delight?

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Nah, pure relief eh Eilidh!

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Action Man

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And that’s why she’s allowed to be happy!

IMG_0610Magical mists

Orion Face Direct, Wednesday 25th. Winter looked to be washed out very soon so Icky & I made a dash for the last route of the season. Spoilt for choice we chose Orion which I’d been on but never done in it entirity. Definitely didn’t disappoint and the legs really knew about it. Luckily the descent on a cushion of powder right to the door of the hut was as good as it gets; “If Carling made descents”.

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Icky heading towards the exit chimneys that gave a superb steep finish to the 8 pitch day.

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Position

 

 

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Mega Ice

 

P1000427Dodgy belay on the exit slopes.

31st March. Video work on Human Geography with Phillip from Canada was quite some challenge in the mega-gusts we had but the stinging showers mostly left us alone until the very end of the day. I’m not sure quite how it works but the project is based on Munro Bagging and he’s off to interview Chris Townsend next. Looking forward to seeing the results.

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The Eastern Black Cuillin looking wintery. We went to the right hand of the 2 obvious cols

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Clac Glas from the shelter of a welcome overhang.

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Definitely winter.

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Main Cuillin Ridge laid out in front of us

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Clac Glas, the Matterhorn of Skye and a fiercesome barrier to reaching Bla Bheinn

Val di Lagan winter sports resort

09/03/15

With temperatures forecast to soar into double figures the following day it seemed that everyone wanted to get out on Wednesday. We were worried winter would come to an abrupt end but it hasn’t; we’ve more fresh snow down to 500m today, Sunday, with plenty of old snow on easterly aspects in particular.

Plastered

Laden with snowboards, skis and climbing kit our team made “steady” progress but nobody minded with the warm spring sunshine on the face.Spluttering start

Snow conditions were a wee bit “lively” but we eventually made it to the cave half-way up the Great Stone Shoot. It was a lovely day for a walk but we were a bit shocked to have a couple of French tourists in jeans & trainers join us! We assured them it wasn’t the voie normal so they gaily scooted off down again without a care in the world.Stone Shoot stomp

Angus opted for an extended rest so we had to miss his boarding but you can look it up on facebook.Here he comes

Snow cover was very limited and it really doesn’t show the steepness but, wow, what an arena to play in!

All Action team

Short on time we opted for Diedre Blanc again with Beads & Icky enjoying the lead.Pitch1

In December I suggested it may be IV,4 but with a thick coat of ice blocking both placements and protection the top pitch definitely felt worthy of its original grade V. Placements may have been blocked but the snow and ice was in superb condition which made the climbing feel a lot closer to traditional winter than modern mixed.Diedre Blanc

A long abseil took us back to the sacks (well nearly:-) Icky’s just below the skyline here-abseil2

before a traditional bumslide descent for me. Icky grabbed his skis from the cave and made an olympic standard descent with axes jangling like swiss cow bells.Survived

Things were warming up all day and, as well as some friendly red deer, we even spotted the first lamb of the season.First lamb 4 march